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PSU launches new School of Earth, Environment, and Society

鶹ýӳ banner against backdrop of fall foliage on Park Blocks

Portland State is launching a new School of Earth, Environment, and Society that joins together multiple disciplines focused on understanding and addressing some of the most pressing and complex issues facing the planet and the people who call it home.

The new school, housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, combines five existing units: Anthropology, Complex Systems, Environmental Science and Management, Geography and Geology. It was overwhelmingly approved by the Faculty Senate on June 3.

The formation of the new school is the result of a deliberate two-year planning process that engaged faculty, staff, students, alumni, peer institutions and community partners.

“The process was collaborative, community-oriented, iterative and empowering,” said Michele Gamburd, professor of anthropology. She says the vote to disband their department and join the new school was unanimous, but not without tears as they would be losing their identity as a department.

“After every winter, we come to a spring where fresh hope springs and new life emerges,” she said. “I look forward, as do my colleagues, to building with our new larger unit and seeing what comes from this.”

ORGANIZING FOR GREATER IMPACT

The five unit chairs, who led the process, say students, faculty, staff and community partners will benefit from the units reorganizing under one roof.

“As students leave here, they get jobs in our fields and work with people from many other disciplines,” said Max Nielsen-Pincus, associate professor and chair of Environmental Science and Management. “So why not start that interdisciplinary training now? We can prepare our students for a workplace where natural scientists, social scientists and practitioners work together to tackle increasingly complex problems.”

Faculty envision the school becoming a hub of collaborative research as much as it will become a hub of interdisciplinary teaching and learning. New collaborations between researchers will emerge, and faculty will be able to leverage and strengthen their existing partnerships with agencies, non-governmental organizations, Tribes and other employers to advance research projects and pursue external funding.

Stronger partnerships will lead to more hands-on experiential learning for students, including research opportunities, career mentoring, internships and field trips.

Some research and education areas for transdisciplinary growth include climate change and adaptation, environmental and climate justice, applied conservation, geospatial data science, human health and cultural diversity, impacts of pollution and natural hazards, and complex systems and resilience thinking.

All existing degree programs will carry over into the new school, but there will be opportunities to streamline the curriculum and increase course offerings available while reducing the number of overlapping courses.

“Improving the success and experience of our undergrads, grad students and certificate seekers is really at the core of this new school,” Nielsen-Pincus said.

For example, a core curriculum of lower-division courses would allow students to explore career paths early and choose majors that best align with their interests. Multiple upper-division courses that teach skills such as research methods and science communication could also be designed to serve the school broadly rather than have duplication across departments.

The chairs say that a more coordinated curriculum will offer opportunities for team-teaching across disciplines and an increased diversity of course options.

Being part of a larger unit will also mean a more balanced workload for faculty and staff.

“At the heart of this is prioritizing our mission to serve our students and do a better job of that while also creating a healthy workplace that balances our workload with the need for having a strong morale,” Nielsen-Pincus said.

The school will become official this fall, and the next academic year will serve as a transition year for faculty to establish school structures and functions. By fall 2025, the five individual units will be eliminated and replaced by a school with a diversity of programs and curricular options for students.